A Message From The Author
If you're reading this, then thank you. For stumbling across my page and deciding to click read. I really appreciate it - so thank you.
I wanted to write a quick introduction about The Deadlands. You may see the title and think "best-selling short story? How?" Well, it's true. I swear! I was absolutely delighted to have The Deadlands selected to be included in the horror anthology Twisted 50 Vol.1, as part of 50 writers who contributed to the book. It was one of those moments that come along that say "keep doing this, keep going, you're a writer and people want to read your stories." Sometimes, those moments are all we have as writers and we have to grab them and hold onto them because it keeps us writing even when we think we're no good at it - never stop writing, always keep going.
The most exciting part? Upon release the anthology became a best-seller, topping the Amazon charts and taking the No.1 spot from the absolutely excellent The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by the master storyteller - the one and only Stephen King. Yes, so The Deadlands, really is a best-selling short story. I still can't believe it.
It's very cool and a huge honour to be part of that anthology. For those who haven't read the anthology though, I'm excited to finally have the chance to publish it for everyone and anyone to read. And I hope you do. It's not the traditional zombie apocalypse story, and is a world I would really like to explore. One reader on the Create 50 community did say that this felt like the opening of a novel, or a larger story. Maybe it is, maybe it will be. If you read it and think that you'd like to see more of the world created within and the characters, please do comment and let me know.
Anyway, that's enough for now. If you've gotten this far, I'd love it if you keep reading. If not, thanks for taking the time to stop by. I hope to write something one day you can't wait to read.
Gordon's mind had already switched to auto-pilot by the time lunch-time came around, his brain numb from the endless stream of paperwork that showed no sign of letting up. No matter how long ago the world had ended, the paperwork never stopped. If it wasn't for the sudden rustle of sandwich wrappers or the tap-tap of stirring spoons, Gordon would have missed the lunch call altogether. Taking the chance, he slid away from his mahogany prison, grabbed his lunch from the drawer, headed over to the window of the office and looked out onto the Deadlands.
The Deadlands seemed to stretch out forever, far beyond the tall, wired wall of The George Town Sanctuary and the endless stream of dead it played host too. Looking out, Gordon felt strangely captivated by the dead as they shuffled over the dirt, reminding him of a painting his grandmother used to own. It was a portrait of the end of the world; a cracked beauty, life and death blurring together in one brushstroke. The Deadlands were scarily reminiscent of this; the only thing the two lacked in common was the endless stock of meat, bones and dirt that the picture failed to contain.
Taking a bite of his sandwich, he caught sight of his own reflection and was surprised at how different he looked. His face was drawn, his cheeks, once plump, had made way for what could now pass as a strong jawline and his dark, evenly kept head of hair was now thinning with flecks of grey. The thing that struck him most, however, were his eyes. His mother had always said he had old eyes looking out from young skin but, looking now, it seemed that this mismatched symmetry had evened itself out, his face as old as his eyes once been, a thought that made him force his gaze away from the view and onto the rest of the office and his fellow survivors.
As always, Gordon was the only one wearing a suit, a fact that was met with a great deal of scorn and eye rolling from his colleagues, something that didn't bother him too much anymore. There was a reason he wore the suit. It was the same reason he took two teabags in his tea, and wore an overly long Barbour jacket around the sanctuary no matter what the weather. He did all of these things because it reminded him of his father and this made him feel safe. And safety was the only currency worth having in this new world. At least according to him, a belief that that demonstrated how out of place he was in the safe zone, which came down to one simple fact. He had no right being here.
The sanctuary wasn't built for the likes of him it was built for the 1%; for those whose names meant something or whose bank account meant more. And Gordon was neither, he was simply a guy who had been dating the daughter of an MP at the time of the outbreak and she refused to go anywhere without him. Reluctantly, her father put Gordon's name on the list and he was welcomed with open arms. That was until the relationship broke down, the apocalypse proving to be far from the aphrodisiac. A couple of years later, and he was well and truly the outcast.
Gordon didn't like the way things were ran here. He didn't like that safety had come down to nothing more than inheritance and he'd made his opinion known several times at the community meetings, before they stopped letting him attend. He was of the view that survival wasn't a birthright and he wanted to open the doors to those still out there fighting for their lives, offering the sanctuary to whomever, no matter their circumstance. In his protestations, he'd made a fair few enemies and the nickname "The Lobbyist". It was only a matter of time before he was thrown out onto the Deadlands and given over to the Shufflers but as long as he was here he'd keep trying to make a change and try his best to make his co-habitants see the wrong in how they were acting, or rather, not acting.
It wasn't the lack of humility or the indecency of the George Town Suburbanites that bothered him; it was their lack of awareness, self or otherwise. Nothing of the outside world seemed to effect them anymore, the wall separating the sanctuary from the chaos had created a seemingly impenetrable bubble that only Gordon seemed to be on the outside of. There was no shock or horror anymore; there was just the mundane. It was like the world was still turning just as it had been, the dead rising nothing more than a generational shift that had to be acclimated to and another expense to budget for. The apocalypse had become routine and a new way to find entertainment. Last Christmas, for example, Donny (a man who insisted on calling Gordon, "G-Man" and despite everything still only concerned himself with the "3 B's" (Beer, Bitches and Ball Games) had brought into the office a shuffler they had captured, dressed him in full Father Christmas regalia and hung him from the ceiling with a set of Christmas lights, illuminating the swinging corpse like a piñata at a David Lynch party.
He shuddered at the memory, staring at the spot on the office carpet where the sack of meat and bones had once dripped blood and flesh. And of the poor cleaner (her name may have been Margo) who had been left to clean it up later that same night, and who strayed too close, not realising the Shuffler hadn't been put down but was still very much "alive" and kicking. That had been a dark time, even for the end of the world, and it was standing, hands clasped together and head bowed that Gordon had decided that things needed to change and that he would be the man to do it.
Gordon was so busy thinking about his place in George Town, Donny's Christmas cadavers and the ill-fate of Margo that he didn't realise that a crowd that had gathered around him at the window until he heard them gasp, derailing the train of thought he'd embarked on. It was only then that he realised that something was happening. As he followed the gaze of his colleagues out onto the Deadlands, he started to think that the audience had formed to watch another game of Shuffle-Streak - the rules of which were to run through the Deadlands without a stitch of clothing on and attempt to come back wearing that of a shuffler's – and that was when he saw them.
It was a young family, slap bang in the middle of the Deadlands. There was four of them, the daughter about 16 and her younger brother, no older than 8 or 9, were wedged in between their parents as they slowly made their way across the burned ground, George Town only a few well-placed steps ahead of them. Gordon heart's picked up the pace as he watched them, quickly crossing his fingers and muttering a quick prayer to whatever God was listening.
All work had stopped in the office now as everyone gathered around the window to watch. The family hadn't yet been spotted, moving at a snail's pace. No need to run, no need to rush. The phrase "Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey" echoed in Gordon's ears as he did his best to ignore his colleagues who, with Donny leading the charge, had started making bets as to whether or not they'd make it across and who'd be the last one standing. The sense of hope that had filled him seconds ago vanished and he felt sick climbing up the back of his throat and was made only worse as he turned back to the window.
In the end, it was the boy that was the last one standing. The thing that Gordon would never forget was that the boy didn't look scared or upset, he just looked lost. Confused. He was probably waiting for his Dad to get back up and lift him the rest of the way or for his sister to get up and tease him for being too slow. Or maybe he was just waiting for his mother to hold him close and tell him everything would be alright. He probably didn't know what was happening as the cloud of corpses floated over and began to shower down on him like dead rain.
The office was silent as they watched the boy being torn apart, the only sound coming from money as it exchanged hands. Everyone went back to work with pockets as empty as their souls. But Gordon stood there for some time in a daze, still staring out of the window as the cloud got up and moved onto their next feed. Memories of the bedtime stories he grew up with came back to him then. The ones where the heroes saved the world and rescued those in danger; he realised that these were just stories after all. War isn't won by bedtime stories, he thought. No, they weren't. The reality was very different. Reality was people betting on a life and watching death as a sport. Reality was that Gordon's plan to change things in George Town had just caused the death of four people.
As Gordon continued to gaze out, he didn't know whether he was grieving the family, the death of his heroic plan or because he was the reason that the family had gotten there in the first place. There was no question that it was because Gordon had leaked the George Town co-ordinates to those beyond the wall that the family had found themselves stranded in the middle of the Deadlands.
There was no question that, in his foolhardy act of bravery and nobility that when he had sent a message beyond the walls (it was easy, they still had electricity, and wi-fi – what more do they need to survive?) to tell the world that there was a safe place for them and they'd be welcomed with open arms, that he'd just sealed the fate of anyone who would try and brave the Deadlands for the opportunity to enter George Town.
He thought then of the father he'd just seen torn to shreds and his wasted sacrifice, wishing more than anything that he could trade places with him, away from the world of desk-bound dreamers he lived in and foolish acts of heroism that got people killed.
But instead, Gordon turned away went back to work, his heart weighing heavy as he took his seat, sliding out another form and letting his brain go numb again, telling himself that at least he tried. And that was enough, right?